The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every facet of life, including how municipalities and school districts conduct business.
But after four months of adjusting to meetings in a virtual setting through Zoom, Facebook Live or some other online platform, several area boards have been slowly and cautiously transitioning back to live meetings when practical.
Of course, that includes mask wearing, social distancing of at least six feet between everyone in the room and strictly adhering to capacity limits, which is capped at 50 percent with no more than 25 people in a room.
Since late June, two town boards in Putnam County, Patterson and Putnam Valley, have gone live with limited attendance without much fanfare. Patterson Supervisor Richard Williams said since the town opted to return to its Town Hall meeting room for its second June meeting, it has been constantly monitoring active cases and the status of the virus in the county.
“We are trying to get back to as much normalcy as we possible can around here – and try to do so safely,” Williams said.
Under the current arrangement, eight members of the public are allowed to attend by pre-registering on a first-come, first-served basis. The only others in attendance are the board members and essential staff such as the town attorney, town clerk and cameraman. The Town Board meetings continue to be live-streamed on YouTube, although not the planning and zoning boards are not.
There have been a few residents, but like most boards summer attendance is generally sparse, Williams said.
In Putnam Valley, as many as four members of the public are allowed, also first-come, first-served. Supervisor Sam Oliverio said the size of the meeting room, which is relatively small, remains a factor. The Town Board conducted its second regular June meeting and its July meeting last Wednesday at Town Hall.
However, when a public hearing is on the agenda, Oliverio said, it will go virtual. The Aug. 5 Town Board meeting will have four hearings and will be conducted via Zoom. Residents may also call in their comments and questions.
“At a public hearing you have to have the public speak. You can’t disenfranchise anybody,” Oliverio said.
One of the first area school boards to go live was the Pleasantville Board of Education. For its last two meetings the board has conducted a socially distanced meeting at the high school library and media center.
Trustee Angela Vella said the July 14 meeting featured a discussion on goals for the upcoming year and new officers were sworn in, making a virtual meeting less efficient. There was also discussion last week on what the start of the new school year may look like.
“We’ve been keeping our agendas very simple because of the remote nature of the meetings but we need to get back to business and start discussing things so we thought it would be better to have this discussion in person,” Vella said.
The Aug. 4 meeting is scheduled to return to a virtual setting because a less robust agenda is likely, she said.
Meanwhile, the Village Board will continue to meet virtually, said Mayor Peter Scherer.
“It still seems like the right thing for the month of July, although I do look forward to being in the same room as folks,” Scherer said.
Another arrangement was offered for last week’s Mount Kisco Planning Board meeting. The board conducted the meeting over Zoom, but allowed residents to come to Village Hall for comments if they were more comfortable. Several residents chose that option.
Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended boards’ ability to continue meeting virtually. That is extended for 30-day intervals and will currently run through Aug. 5, Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi said.
Although Cortlandt has one of the largest meeting rooms in the area, limiting attendance would not be fair or feasible when discussing hot-button issues, Puglisi said. For example, there was a major public hearing last month on the proposed mixed-use Medical Oriented District (MOD) project near New York Presbyterian/Hudson Valley Hospital. There were about 140 participants for that hearing.
“How do you social distance?” Puglisi asked. “It’s very, very difficult. We’re trying to do our small part in stopping the spread.”
Williams said if there is a controversial issue that large numbers of residents want to attend, the town will switch its venue to the gymnasium at Patterson’s recreation center. He hopes that won’t be needed.
“I’m working very hard to make sure we don’t have any controversial issues,” Williams said.